There are dozens of types of vodka in the world — so how do you know which one you will like?
Even though you may not be the biggest liquor drinker, understanding the characteristics of different types of vodka, flavor profiles, and attributes can help you make the best decision regarding ordering shots or cocktails.
Let’s look at the various types of vodka, vodka brands, and flavor profiles when it comes to buying this spirit and ordering cocktails.
Flavored vodka is a clear liquor that has a flavor profile other than the materials used (ex: unflavored potato vodka can taste like potato, whereas raspberry vodka tastes more like raspberries and fruit).
Flavored vodkas are clear in appearance but may have a distinctive smell that reflects the flavor, such as fruit or sweet candy. Flavored vodkas can be used as stand-alone liquor or for cocktails.
Some familiar recipes include orange juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, cranberry juice, lemonade, Margarita mix, lemon and lime juice, or lemon and lime skins.
This type of vodka is used in many cocktails, such as Bay Breeze, Gimlet, or Cosmo. A Gimlet with vodka uses lime juice and simple syrup for a classic vodka-based cocktail.
Grain vodka is a type of clear liquor and alcohol that distills grains. Grain vodkas can be either maize, wheat, corn, or rye.
Rye vodka can be used in cocktails that require a bit of spiciness and robustness to it when compared to a fruity or sweet flavor.
One rye cocktail includes rye whiskey, cream, and coffee liqueur. Wheat vodka can be used for either spicy or fruity flavors.
A typical cocktail using wheat vodka includes pineapple lemon Olio, Aperol, lemon juice, and fruit puree.
Corn vodka can be used as a substitute for any other type of grain vodka cocktail. One cocktail example includes mixing corn vodka, lemon juice, and coconut milk with ice, shaking, and straining into a cocktail glass.
All of the aforementioned grain vodkas can be made by combining the grain with water and heat.
After yeast is added to the grain vodka mixture, fermentation begins and converts the sugar into alcohol.
Molasses vodka is a very distinctive alcohol that uses molasses instead of grain during the fermentation and distillation process.
Molasses vodka has a unique smell of sweetness, pepper, and menthol. Although this type of vodka looks like grain vodka and flavored vodka since it is crystal clear in color, the distinct smell, and spicy ending make it suitable for specific cocktails.
Molasses vodka can be used for varying types of cocktails, specifically drinks with ginger, spicy notes, candy flavors, or fruit.
One example of a molasses vodka cocktail is a GingerSnap drink with club soda, star anise, syrup, and molasses vodka.
You can also use this type of vodka for Pomegranate Moscow Mule, featuring ginger beer, molasses vodka, pomegranate juice, and mint.
You can use molasses, white sugar, and yeast to create molasses vodka, so it ferments and distills with a unique sweet flavor.
Plain vodka is a strong alcohol that has high alcohol content and no additional flavors. This vodka has not been combined with any other ingredients and is usually made with potatoes, rye, corn, or wheat.
You can make plain vodka by combining the ingredients for the base of the liquor, fermenting the ingredients, straining the liquid, distilling the vodka mixture, filtering the alcohol, and diluting the ingredients (ex: maize, rye, corn, or wheat).
The first step of making plain vodka is to choose the variation that you would like. Let’s say that you decided on potatoes and barley to make your plain vodka.
After selecting your malted barley and potatoes, the next step is to boil the potatoes, mash the vegetables, add water, add the barley, and let the mixture cool.
Once the mixture is cool, you need to ferment your vodka mash. You can ferment your plain vodka mash by adding the yeast and then straining the liquid to get rid of any solid materials.
Plain vodka can be used in a wide variety of cocktails since you can disguise the flavor using juices, other types of alcohol, and muddled ingredients.
Some of the most popular cocktail recipes that you will often find in bars include a Vodka Gimlet, Vodka Tonic, Vodka Sour, Classic Vodka Bloody Mary, Cranberry Cocktail, or White Russian.
Potato vodka is made using potatoes as the alcoholic base. This type of vodka is gluten-free and has a sweeter flavor than rye, wheat, or corn vodka.
You can make potato vodka by making a potato mash after boiling the potatoes, fermenting the vodka using the brewers’ yeast, and distilling the mixture.
Common potato vodka cocktails typically include ginger beer, ginger ale, and other fruit, like pomegranate or pineapple.
Rye vodka has a distinctive smell and taste compared to other types of vodka. It has a spiciness and deepness to its flavor profile when compared to fruity and sweet vodka options.
Some of the most common rye vodka cocktails include Yashmak, Pan American, or Scofflaw. The Yashmak includes rye vodka or whiskey, Dry Vermouth, and simple syrup.
Varieties of Vodka
There are numerous varieties of vodka to choose from when you are at a restaurant, bar, or buying one in a store.
American vodka is used to make wheat, rye, and corn. The most popular ingredient used for American vodka is corn — for example, Tito’s is a famous vodka brand that uses corn during the production of its vodka base. This type of vodka is usually 40% or higher.
American vodka brands became a well-known alcoholic drink after the mid-1950s, once production of the spirit became popular around the country.
There are numerous food choices that can pair well with American vodka. If you are drinking corn or potato vodka, the best food pairings include pickled vegetables, seafood, and smoked meat.
If you are drinking wheat, rye, or barley vodka, the best food pairing is meatloaf, steak, or heavy seafood.
Some of the most common brands and vodka types include Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Hangar One, Smirnoff, Skyy, Popov, UV, Kirkland American Vodka, Stateside Vodka, OYO Vodka, Spring44, Tuthilltown Indigenous Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka, and New Amsterdam.
Dutch vodka is a strong alcoholic beverage that uses wheat as the main base. This type of vodka is usually sourced from specific European countries, like Germany, Netherlands, and France. This type of vodka is made using a specific quadruple distilled and infusion process.
Dutch vodka has been in production for over 350 years. One of the most well-known brands is Ketel One, which has been producing vodka for 325 years in the Dutch distillery in Schiedam.
The infamous distillery was founded in 1691 by Joannes Nolet and has transformed into one of the most globally well-known vodka brands today.
The best Dutch vodka brands include Benelux, Van Gogh, Ketel One, Hooghoudt, Bong Spirit, and Bols.
French vodka is an alcoholic beverage typically produced in the southwestern section of France. The history of vodka dates back to the mid-16th century, with the creation of CIROC and Grey Goose vodka. The alcohol percentage of French vodka is usually around 40%.
The best French vodka brands include Grey Goose vodka, Ciroc, Jean-Marc Vodka, Fair Vodka, Dragon Bleau, and EKISS.
Finland is one of the biggest producers of vodka today, known as one of the countries as part of the “vodka belt” in Europe.
This type of vodka is usually made with barley and hovers between 37.5 and 40% alcohol content.
The most common Finnish Vodka brands include Finlandia, Strom Vodka, Koskenkorva, Laplandia, Moses, or Fris.
Polish vodka is a type of alcohol made from rye, barley, wheat, potatoes, or oats. The minimum alcoholic content of this type of vodka is 37.5%, but it usually hovers at 40%.
Poland is one of the biggest producers of vodka, producing over 98 million liters in 2016 alone. The production of vodka began in the early 15th century.
The top Polish vodka brands include Wodka, Luksusowa, Sobieski, Chopin Potato vodka, and Belvedere.
Russian vodka first entered production in the late 14th century and has continued ever since.
The drink actually had a very low alcohol content until the 18th century, when it ranged from 24% to 75% based on the purpose and the specific producer.
The most popular Russian vodka brands are Stoli, Russian Standard, Beluga Noble, Husky, Mamont, and Zyr.
Sweden has a more complicated victory with vodka than other European producers. Up until the mid-20th century, ‘vodka’ was not considered Swedish alcohol.
Today, Sweden is one of the best producers of vodka in Europe due to regulation changes and the creation of vodka companies, such as Absolut. In Sweden, the most popular type of vodka to purchase in-store or at a restaurant is made from grains, especially wheat.
Ukraine is one of the traditional vodka producers in the ‘vodka belt’ in Europe, producing vodka and ‘nalivka’ — a drink used in other spirits that contains between 15 and 75% alcohol.
Vodka is a big part of Ukraine’s culture. Most types of vodka produced within the country are made of rye, wheat, or barley.
The most popular Ukrainian vodka brands include Nemiroff, Khor, Pristine, Zirkova, Ultra, Kruto, and Shevokoff.
In the modern world, Nemiroff is one of the world’s largest producers that sells vodka products in over 80 countries around the world.
Frequently Asked Questions
Customers who are curious about what type of vodka they should purchase or order at a bar should check out these commonly asked questions first.
When was vodka first made?
Vodka was first made back in the early 15th century, as the story goes. A monk from the Chudov Monastery in Russia learned how to distill a new type of alcoholic beverage, later known as vodka (or vodka neat).
How popular is vodka?
People love to drink vodka! Vodka has been the top-selling alcoholic beverage in the United States over the past 50 years. Around the world, vodka is well-known as the most popular spirit, with Smirnoff and Absolut being two of the biggest brands worldwide.
What was the vodka war?
The vodka war was a debate in Europe regarding what kinds of liquor could be referred to as ‘vodka’ when marketed and sold. The catalyst of the ‘war’ was when Diageo began calling Ciroc a type of vodka, although it was made from grapes — not grains.
Can vodka be used as a sauce?
Vodka can be used in different sauce recipes, especially for pasta dishes. Common sauces, including vodka, also use heavy cream, parmesan, herbs, and cheese.
What countries belong to the “vodka belt?”
Russia, the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and Scandinavia, are considered a part of the ‘vodka belt.’ The only Scandinavian country not included in the vodka belt is Denmark.
Take the Shot With Vodka
There are numerous types of vodka to choose from! Whether you want to purchase a type of vodka for making cocktails or you want to order a shot of vodka at a bar, it can be helpful to know the different brands and flavors of vodka.
Understanding the differences between vodka bases, flavor profiles, food pairings, and cocktail mixtures can help new vodka drinkers find their favorite kind of vodka.
What is your favorite vodka? Leave a comment here!